As part of a federal project aimed at better treating pain, the University of Maryland, Baltimore will begin revamping the way it teaches future doctors, dentists, nurses and pharmacists.
Pain affects approximately 100 million Americans and their treatment and lost productivity are estimated to cost up to $635 billion, according to the National Institutes of Health, which recruited academic centers to help with the problem.
A pain consortium of two dozen NIH agencies received 56 proposals and picked 11 universities to be Centers of Excellence in Pain Education. Over the next three years, they are expected to develop courses in assessing, diagnosing and treating pain, and avoiding abuse of prescription painkillers.
The curriculum developed by each will be posted on a public website that other universities can use to shape their own programs, said Dr. David Thomas, a health scientist administrator in the National Institute on Drug Abuse and a consortium member.
"Pain is not taught to a great degree in medical, nursing, pharmacy and dental schools, or to a degree we consider enough, given the number of people it affects," he said. "We wanted more pain education for providers. So we took the approach of trying to find pain champions in these schools who wanted to get more pain education into their curriculum."
Thomas said the universities were chosen for providing the "biggest impact."
Each school will receive about $275,000 to develop a new curriculum, which in many cases will cross professional school lines.
That's the case at Maryland, where students from each school will sit in class together and "pore over the same cases," said Mary Lynn McPherson, a professor and vice chair of the Department of Pharmacy Practice and Science, who led Maryland's successful proposal along with Sharon Gordon, director of graduate research education in the School of Dentistry.
Dr. Jay Perman, Baltimore campus president, has been emphasizing inter-professional learning and thought it would work well here because everyone has the same goal of treating pain, McPherson said.
McPherson expects that within a year students will begin using the revamped curriculum, which will be continually retooled to add cases and new methods of teaching. She believes Maryland had already been teaching pain at a level above other universities, but students from different programs were not learning other professionals' perspectives.
"Pain is such a difficult problem," she said. "It's physical and psychological and there is a lot of fear involved. It takes a village to treat a pain patient."
In addition to the University of Maryland, Baltimore, other schools chosen for the new task include the University of Washington, Seattle; the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine, Philadelphia; Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville; the University of Rochester, N.Y.; the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque; the Harvard School of Dental Medicine, Boston; the University of Alabama at Birmingham; the Thomas Jefferson University School of Medicine, Philadelphia; the University of California, San Francisco; and the University of Pittsburgh.
The NIH consortium specifically wanted the universities to focus on rehabilitation, arthritis, musculoskeletal, neuropathic and headache pain. They are expected to use the latest research on integrative pain management, the over- and under-prescribing of pain medications, gender's influence on pain and pain in the very young and old.